MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Sacramento Kings have been in a free fall since the surprising decision to fire coach Michael Malone almost three weeks ago, and rock bottom was staring them right in the face on Thursday night.
The Minnesota Timberwolves had wiped away a 13-point deficit and snatched momentum in the fourth quarter. Somehow, the Kings found a way to squeak one out and remove a little bit of the tension that has been building since Malone’s ouster.
Rudy Gay had 21 points, six rebounds and five assists, and the Kings handed the Timberwolves their 10th straight loss with a 110-107 victory.
DeMarcus Cousins had 19 points and seven rebounds after being ejected one night earlier, and the Kings shot 54 percent while each of their starters scored in double figures. Darren Collison scored 21 points and Derrick Williams had 17, including a big 3-pointer down the stretch.
“We feel good about this win, we needed a win bad, but we’ve got work to do on both ends of the floor,” said coach Tyrone Corbin, who had the interim label removed from his job status on Wednesday.
Andrew Wiggins had 27 points and nine rebounds, but the Timberwolves couldn’t take advantage when Cousins and Gay both fouled out in the fourth quarter. Troy Daniels’ 3-point attempt at the buzzer was partially blocked.
Gorgui Dieng added 15 points and 10 rebounds for Minnesota, and Shabazz Muhammad also scored 15. But a lackluster start and some missed free throws late in the game kept a miserable losing streak going.
“You can’t win a game at the beginning of a game, but you can lose a game by setting the (wrong) tone,” coach Flip Saunders said. “We came out with poor energy.”
The Kings were one of the feel-good stories of the first month of the season, with Malone instilling a new commitment to defense and getting Cousins to harness his hair-trigger temper while they put together a 9-5 start. But Cousins was sidelined with meningitis and Malone was fired on Dec. 15.
Sacramento was just 2-6 in its first eight games without Malone, including a 22-point loss in Boston on Wednesday in which Cousins was ejected after tussling with Celtics rookie Marcus Smart.
A loss to the lowly Timberwolves (5-26) would have been another step in its downward spiral, especially with how Sacramento was humming on offense early.
The Kings hit 78 percent of their shots in a 37-point first quarter, but led by a modest eight points thanks to six turnovers and allowing the Wolves to shoot 57 percent themselves.
Sacramento led 81-68 midway through the third quarter, but Gay fouled out with 4:21 to play and Cousins picked up his sixth less than two minutes later.
Wiggins scored on a drive and a spin move and Thaddeus Young hit two free throws to tie it at 99 with four minutes to go.
Then Williams, the former Timberwolves No. 2 overall pick, responded with a 3-pointer that put Sacramento up for good.
“It’s a good win,” Cousins said. “The biggest thing is that it’s showing we can play through adversity, so I think it was a good win for us.”
Kings: Gay committed a career-high eight of Sacramento’s 20 turnovers. ... F Omri Casspi did not play because of a knee injury and PG Ramon Sessions missed his fifth straight game with a strained lower back. ... After starting the first 31 games of the year, F Jason Thompson did not play on Wednesday against Boston and came off the bench against Minnesota. ... Corbin coached with a walking boot on his left leg after he tore an Achilles in practice earlier in the week.
Timberwolves: Saunders said C Nikola Pekovic will get an MRI on his right ankle next week. If it comes back clear, he could start some light contact work in practice. ... Minnesota’s 36 points in the paint in the first half was its highest total for a half this season.
In his first start of the season, Williams delivered another strong game against the team that traded him in December 2013. He disappointed in Minnesota with his inconsistency and has been up and down with the Kings, but always seems to play well against the Wolves. He hit 3 of 6 3-pointers and grabbed five boards in 30 minutes.
“At the end of the day, it’s good for our team and good for our chemistry,” Williams said. “We needed it.”
Kings: Visit Detroit on Sunday.
Timberwolves: Host Utah on Saturday.